5 (+1) Tips To Reduce Anxiety on the First Day of School (with COVID-era upate)

It’s that time again…

Back to School!

The first day of school is just around the corner (already here in some places), and for students, parents, and teachers alike, knowing that first day of school is coming can produce a lot anxiety and sometimes enough stress to make you sick!

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

jason walker wearing shirt and tie standing in front of projector screen

Mr. Walker on his very first first day of school as a teacher!

When I was still in the classroom teaching, I dreaded the first day of school. I never felt prepared and I always felt like I was going to crash and burn as soon as the first bell rang!

No matter what I did, the first day of school always seemed to be the most daunting day of the entire school year.

I remember my first day teaching in my first year teaching. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and when I finally got out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to get ready to go, I thought the world was going to end. I had major anxiety: dizziness, upset stomach, cold sweats, headache, racing heart, shortness of breath…

You name the symptom and I had it!!

But, somehow I got through that first day, and the other 175 days that came after it. Somehow, I always got through the first day of school every year, and I was always glad I did.

And, believe me when I tell you that if I did it, YOU CAN, TOO!

Here are 5 Tips to Reduce Anxiety on the 1st Day of School:

1. Don’t stress about being prepared — you won’t be!

It didn’t matter how much time I spent on lesson plans, setting up my classroom, gathering materials, cleaning, making copies….I never had everything done on the morning of the first day of school. And, guess what? You won’t either!

But, the great part about that is that, it’s OK! Your students will probably be too worn out from summer and overwhelmed themselves to notice. Not being 100% prepared on the first day will not permanently damage any of your students. So, give yourself a break. You will get it done…another day!

2. Make sure that you are well-rested.

Notice I didn’t say, “get plenty of sleep the night before”…right?

If you’re anything like me, you just can’t sleep when you’re nervous. And, if you’re like me, you’re going to be nervous the night before the first day of school. If you don’t sleep 8 hours, DON’T PANIC! There are ways to mitigate the damage.

Take a good nap during the afternoon before. Hey, who doesn’t love a nap? At least your body will get some rest that day.

Don’t do anything major on the day before the first day of school. I once had a colleague who ran a charity 5K every year right before school started. Several of them happened on the day before. I really don’t recommend this.

Use the day before the first day to let your body rest. Don’t do anything stressful–especially anything like preparing for the next day. Take it easy. Watch a good movie. Have a good meal. Spend time with your family.

RELAX!

3. Give yourself plenty of time.

One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make, not just teachers, is not giving themselves enough time in the morning. Being in a rush, even if you’re not running late, creates more even more anxiety.

If it normally takes you an hour to get ready in the mornings, give yourself an hour and a half on the first day.

If your commute is 30 minutes, give yourself 45.

If you know there will be a line at the copy machine–do your copying several days ahead, or better yet, do an activity on the first day that doesn’t require making a bunch of copies.

Whatever you need to do, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to get there and get down to work. No one ever made a difference by being in a rush!

4. Eat something–ANYTHING, even if you don’t feel like it.

You remember what grandma used to say: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

Well, guess what? She was right!

There have been numerous studies that have shown students who don’t eat a good breakfast in the morning before school don’t perform as well. The same thing is true for teachers.

If you go to school hungry, even if you don’t realize you’re hungry because your nerves are on edge, you simply won’t perform well. You know what I’m talking about. You’ll end up with a headache, upset stomach, lethargy, and you’ll be a bear to your students in the class period before lunch!

Even if you don’t feel like it, be sure to eat something. Some crackers and cheese, or peanut butter; a piece of toast and cheese…eat something with some protein and carbs so that you’re full and have plenty of energy.

5. Remember, there is only ONE first day of school!

This is maybe my favorite one of all!

Whatever happens; however terrible (or terrific) the first day of school is, remember: there is, and will ever be, ONLY ONE first day of school. You will get through it. The last bell will ring. The students will go home, and you will, too.

Yes, the first day is stressful. Yes, you will be nervous and anxious and excited and worried and thrilled and all of the other emotions at the same time. And, yes, at the end of it you will be exhausted…but, it will be over, and it will be the only one of the year.

Remember that while you read the note little Johnny’s mom wrote to you complaining that she has to spend her money on “school supplies for other kids.” She’ll only write it once!

And, just for you, my readers….

BONUS TIP…..BREATHE!!!

That’s right. Whatever you do, don’t forget to breath.

In through the nose for four seconds. Hold two seconds. Out through the mouth four seconds.

Purposely slowing your breathing accomplishes three things:
1. It lowers the heart rate.
2. It lowers the blood pressure.
3. It ensures that your brain and body are getting enough oxygen.

All of those things reduce anxiety.

2020 Update: The First Day in the COVID-19 Era

If you had told me last year at this time that in one year’s time I’d not only be teaching fully online, but also taking classes fully online; and if you would have told me that almost six months would have passed since I would’ve eaten inside a restaurant; and if you would have told me that millions of people around the world would be dead from a virus that, until February, I (like most other Americans) had never hear of — I would have probably laughed in your face and told you that you were crazy.

But, I am, it has been, there are, and that’s the way we begin school in the COVID-19 era…

I wish I had a magic wand to fix this. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you when it would all end. But, I don’t have either of those things. In fact, since transparency is the name of the game here on the Anxiety Diaries, I’m going to be complete transparent and tell you that I’m not handling this well at all. I’ve taken some major steps back in my battle with depression and anxiety. Thankfully, I’m attending school and teaching at a university that has seen fit to allow students and professors to decide what works best for them and I can do everything online for now. But, if that weren’t the case, I don’t know if I’d still be teaching or going to school at all.

For millions of teachers and students around the country, the first day of school is just around the corner, or has already started, and they’re back, in the buildings, in some Twilight Zone existence featuring masks, keeping six feet apart, not touching, constantly washing or sanatizing hands, and in some cases separated by plexiglass bariers attached to their desks. Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have written it better for a movie. If that’s you, and if you’re anxious and nervous and not sure about any of it, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Educate yourself. Make sure that you are up to date on the latest information about and recommendations for staying healthy in the midst of a pandemic.
  2. Enforce boundaries. You know what you’re comfortable with. Don’t let people guilt you into doing something you don’t feel safe doing: if you don’t want to hug, don’t; if you don’t want to shake hands, don’t; if you don’t want to eat lunch at a full table, don’t. Do what you need to do to be calm.
  3. Take time for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get inundated like you normally do during the school year. Leave some free time in your schedule to decompress–you’ll need it.
  4. BREATHE! This is always most important. Don’t forget to breathe!!!

As cliched and trite as it sounds right now, we will get through this. It’s going to take time, but we will. And, I firmly believe that when we do we will be better for it.

So, those are my tips for getting through the anxiety and stress of the first day of school, even in this COVID-19 era. Be well. Be safe. Be happy.


Tell me what you think. In the comments below leave your thoughts, share your experiences, offer other tips that have helped you. Or, just offer a word of encouragement for all the teachers and students heading back to school in the next few days! Click on “Leave a reply,” enter your name and email (don’t worry, I’m not going to spam you or sell your email address), and then write away.

And, as always, if you’ve found this post helpful, please be sure to like and share!!

Have a great year, everyone!

Much love!
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The Last Day: How My Students Taught Me the Most Important Lesson of the Year

Last days at any job are weird. You sit around all day asking yourself, “What should I be doing?” You could be a good employee and diligently perform the duties of your job up until the very last minute of your last shift, but who would you be kidding? You have no real investment in it, so why?

Last days for teachers are, usually, not so fraught with ambivalence and indecision. Most last days for teachers involve administering and grading final exams, or various other administrative tasks that must be handled prior to leaving. Even still, there is that one last-day wild card for school teachers–students.

My last day of school at my most recent district was set up to be fairly easy. The exams for that day were 4th period, my conference period, and 5th period, my seniors in Business English who’d taken their exams the week before. I had all of my exams graded, the grades posted and verified. All of my technology had been turned in; my 75-cent lunch room charge (I bought a Diet Coke on “credit” one day) had been paid; all of my personal belongings had been boxed up. All I had to do was wait for the bell to ring, turn in my keys, and I was done.

But, the wild card…

My kids and me! Well…the top of my bald head, mostly!!

My students knew I wasn’t coming back next year, but they’re high school students, so most of them wouldn’t have had me on their schedule again anyway. Unbeknownst to me, however, some of them were disappointed that I wouldn’t be a face they saw everyday as they walked the halls.

Several students stopped by throughout the day to say their good-byes. They’d already asked if they could connect with me on social media since I wouldn’t be their teacher anymore, and I’d told them yes, with the warning that they’d likely be rather un-enthralled by my posts. A few of them brought me gifts…mostly Nacho Cheese Doritos, Diet Cokes, and Snickers–they knew those were my favorites.

But, I was surprised at the reactions of a few students who, until that day, I’d not seen much from in the way of acknowledging some appreciation for my efforts during the year. One girl, with whom I’d actually had a few minor “run in’s” over tardies and other discipline issues, came to me with tears in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she said, her chin quivering slightly, “for putting up with me this year. I know I wasn’t always the easiest to deal with, but I really did love your class.”

A young man who was in my largest and rowdiest class said, “I never have liked English very much, but you made it fun.”

Still another said, “Mr. Walker, I’m going to miss you!” And wrapped her arms around my neck before I could reply.

A anonymous note I found tacked to the bulletin board behind my desk a few days before school was out this year.

Perhaps the most moving reaction of all came in the form of a Facebook message the morning after the last day of school. It was from a good student who always did well in my class, but one who didn’t usually say much, which is part of the reason I was so surprised to hear from him. His message read, in part:

I’m not sure if it is appropriate to message you. But I am going to anyways. I would like to thank you for being, to me, one of the greatest English teachers I have ever had. Your great amount of humor with the class was what us as students need to be comfortable…

…There may have been days where I just didn’t want to go to English class because I felt like I did not belong with the other academically smart students. But you helped me feel like I belonged and helped me realize that I’m just as smart as the other kids. It is hard for a teacher to connect with their students. But you made it seem so easy.

To say I was bowled over would be a historically big understatement. I had no idea, until the moment I read that, that he felt that way. But, I’m so grateful that something I did, or something I said (I have no idea what), made him feel like he belonged.

He did belong. He does belong. They all belong!

I’ve learned in my very short time as an educator that we don’t always get to know the impact we have on our students. Oh, to be sure, we see progress in whatever subject matter we teach, but it’s not often at all that we learn the bigger things; the more important things; the things that keep us coming back year after year despite the many reasons not to.

I suppose I’m counting myself as one of the lucky ones this year. My last day turned out to be the day I got to see at least a little peek into those important things. More importantly for me, however, it renewed my commitment to the belief that we are meant to educate the whole person, not just the reader, the writer, the mathematician, the scientist, etc. The responsibility we have as educators is enormous because, though we may not always know it, for many of our students, we hold their very BELONGING in our hands.

God help me to never, ever forget that!